Covent Garden is where you take your aunt Gladys when she’s visiting, right?
Yeah. But actually, there are plenty of excellent places to eat in Covent Garden these days. Sure, there are still way too many tourists, and yes, the ligaments in your eyes may seize up from all the eye rolls you perform on your way to dinner. But be strong. It’s worth it - you just have to know where to look.
You bring someone to Barrafina when you want to pretend that you’re more successful than you actually are (so for us, all the time), and to experience some of the best tapas outside of Spain. This particular Barrafina is arguably the best of the lot, in no small part due to the views you’ll get over one of the prettiest streets in Covent Garden, as well as a curved bar that gives each diner not just a view of the kitchen, but of each other. Sure, the food’s pricey but it’s worth it, and though there’s always a wait, there are definitely worse things in life than hanging out with a glass of cava and a plate of ham. Their other restaurant on Drury Lane, a few minutes walk away, is also very good and has a crab slider that is a must-order.
Temper is all about adventurous cooking and marrying dishes you never thought would get along. Big fan of kimchi? Put it in your deep-dish. Why the hell not? They’ve also brought a hangover dream-team together in one dish: the cheeseburger pizza. And, yes, it’s very tasty. This is an open oven, loud and proud, bring your mates kind of place. They also have frozen piña coladas on tap.
If you’re not already a convert, The Barbary will make you understand why eating at the bar can be a blast. All of the restaurant’s seats are at a counter surrounding an open kitchen and bar, and this place, from the same people behind The Palomar, gets everything right, from the upbeat atmosphere and incredible Middle Eastern-meets-North African food, to the service and sleek decor. It opens at 5, so get there before 6 if you want to avoid a wait, and don’t bring more than a couple of friends, as it gets loud and no one wants to be the poor bastard in the middle who gets screamed over.
J Sheekey known for being a late-night hangout for movie and theatre types, which makes sense since it’s in the middle of the West End. It’s also known for being one of the classiest places to get a seafood dinner, and we like to come to sip champagne and eat oysters while pretending that we’ve just sold a script to a big film studio (The 10th Fast and the Furious film, but still). Prices for things like lobster are predictably high, but their legendary fish pie will cost you less than twenty quid - surprisingly reasonable for a place like this. It’s perfect for impressing out-of-towners or for a low-key special meal.
Sometimes you need somewhere small and straightforward to escape to, and that’s where Parsons comes in. It’s a seafood restaurant on Endell Street that’s very much blink and you’ll miss it. Once you do find it, you’ll discover a classically British corridor of a restaurant where fresh catches are written up on the walls and people are happily tucking into oysters, chips, and other nice things left right and centre. It’s a restaurant that really suits two people but can stretch to four, we’d recommend you book ahead if going for the latter though. The seafood is lovely and simple, and the lobster mash in particular is something you’ll regret agreeing to share.
The Frog serves top of the range, locally sourced, seasonally inspired dishes in a setting that is best described as whimsical. The Frog is exactly the kind of place that you bring the love of your life for some mind-bending dishes involving edible flowers and dry ice. It’s all about drama here, and yes, it can be expensive, but the pre/post theatre menu is fairly reasonable. There’s also a basement bar, aptly named Eve, that serves Oscar Wilde inspired cocktails. See, whimsical.
Covent Garden can be stressful. Unless trying to make your way around 200 school children reenacting ‘The Circle of Life’ is your thing. Luckily, Petersham Nurseries have brought their breed of stress-free dining to WC2. La Goccia is the kind of hideaway spot where you can spend hours eating your way through their menu of Italian classics, with anyone from your parents to your partner. Oh, and because the morning rush hour is hardly zen, there’s a breakfast menu too.
Sibarita is a casual, affordable tapas spot just far away enough from the madness of Covent Garden’s main square. The lamb chops and croquetas of the day are always a good call, and the charcuterie and cheese selections are always excellent if you just want to grab a light bite and a glass of wine. Speaking of wine, Sibarita’s list is very solid.
Chicks ‘n’ Sours’ was one of a kind. Now it’s two of a kind. The original in Haggerston won us over with its original take on fried chicken: good birds served either with simple seasonings or with Asian flavours, and brilliant cocktails to boot. Their Covent Garden restaurant has a moodily lit basement and a slightly different menu, but the approach is identical, except now you can bring your entire crew for a slap-up chicken dinner without having to squeeze into a booth the size of your mum’s Renault Clio.
You won’t be surprised to learn that The Oystermen serves oysters. And a bunch of other seafood. The menu switches up depending on whatever’s good that day, and you’ll eat things like squid with romesco, oysters baked with buffalo sauce, or a whole baked Dover sole. This is a is pretty small restaurant with bare brick walls, minimal decor, and it’s a solid call if you’re after an affordable seafood dinner in the area.
Hawksmoor has the reputation as being the best place to get a steak in London, and we agree. It backs up the claim with brilliant food - all the meat is sourced from the UK, and each steak is cooked to perfection. The Seven Dials location, in particular, is a huge basement room filled with the sounds of people eating red meat and having a good time. Besides beef, Hawksmoor does very good seafood (get the scallops), and the bar at this branch is excellent and reason enough to visit on its own - it’s excellent if you just want a sandwich and a cocktail. The French dip will sort you out.
It’s not hard to find pizza in central London, but you’ll have to look a little harder for anything resembling ‘great’ pizza. The reward for your persistence is Homeslice, which does tasty thin-crust pies with super fresh toppings that range from something your imaginary Italian nonna would be proud of to more adventurous ingredients like venison. There’s prosecco and Camden Hells on tap, so you know you’re going to have a good time, and though the pizzas aren’t cheap at £20, they’re the size of a small child so you can easily split one between a couple of you. It’s a good spot for a casual hang, as well as takeaway, as they sell by the slice too.
Jacob the Angel is where to escape the crowds and grab a coffee that isn’t from a chain. This place is run by the people behind The Palomar, one of our favorite restaurants in Soho, and they make fresh salads, sandwiches, and baked things like Middle Eastern-style spinach bourekas. It’s definitely more of a grab-and-go kind of place, but you can also sit in and and look out into Neal’s Yard. Don’t miss the coconut meringue pies.
We could summarise this entry as ‘there is a Dishoom in Covent Garden’ and leave it at that, but in case you need a quick refresher, Dishoom is a trendy but still authentic Indian restaurant with several locations around town. This one’s the original, and it’s also one of the smallest - the queues can be awful, even by Dishoom standards, so keep a backup handy. As for ordering, go for the bhel puri (mixed crunchy things like puffed rice covered in light yoghurt and a tangy sauce), the street food classic pau bhaji (spicy veg mish mash spread over hot buttered buns), and the lamb chops.
It’s usually a good sign when you see a bunch of students from Hong Kong and Japan waiting outside a noodle shop, even on those frigid London days. Not because it fills you with pride to see foreign students getting into the national pastime of queueing, but because it means the food inside is good. You come here for the ramen - we’d go as far to say that it’s the best in London, and with the totally reasonable prices (just over a tenner for the basic bowl of noodles) it’s a good deal. There’s not a whole lot for vegetarians, so don’t bring any, and it’s a casual, no-reservations spot so don’t expect to linger. But do expect to leave happy.
London has more sceney restaurants than it has junior doctors, but The Ivy Is probably the best known, especially if you read The Daily Mail. The people watching and posh vibes are definitely part of the appeal of coming here, but we’ve also never had a bad meal at The Ivy. They’ve added “pan-Asian” to the menu, God help us, but the shepherd’s pie and mutton curry won’t disappoint. It’s Perfect For a glam date or a special meal, but if you want something more casual, its sibling restaurant the Ivy Market Grill is just a few minutes away.
Sometimes you just want to settle down in a pretty dining room with people you like, and eat steak frites with a bottle of good wine. There are few places better to do this in London than the Delaunay, which is a perfect storm of everything you love about eating out - from the decor and service to the food and atmosphere, it’s a class act. If you’re feeling really minted, it’s also great for drop-ins, a drink or even breakfast, and it has a take-out counter for coffee and very good pastries.
Let’s say you and your crew find yourself wandering through Covent Garden and just want a full-on hamburger splurge, but in a place where you can sit down nicely and maybe grab a craft beer and some wings too. Meat Market, from the same guys who opened Meat Liquor near Oxford Street all those years ago, has the same filthy burgers, hot dogs and buffalo wings, but in a more casual atmosphere where you can actually hear each other talk. It’s a little hard to find, but the slightly obscure location off the main square is part of the appeal.
Imagine a space similar in size to your local coffee shop, and now imagine that it has food that could put most smart restaurants to shame, along with the service to match. That’s Jar Kitchen. The food’s British with influences from across Europe, but it’s always good and most enticingly, super reasonable as well - most mains are well under £15. It’s not the biggest dining room, so it can feel cramped or snug (depending on your point of view) when it gets busy in the evening. Perfect for casual get togethers or low-key dinners where you want classy food without paying through your nose.
A London version of the legendary NYC brasserie Balthazar opened in Covent Garden in 2015, and although it doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original, it’s still an excellent go-to for classic French dishes in grand surroundings. Service is excellent, and while the food’s pricey, it’s worth it for the odd splurge. It’s great for any occasion you can throw at it, but especially for celebrations or any situation requiring a restaurant in central London t
Compared to other ramen restaurants, Ippudo has the advantage of a very cool-looking dining room, a much larger menu, and the ability to seat reasonably large groups of people. In other words, it’s perfect for when there are a few of you hankering after some noodles, but you want to make an evening of it without being shoehorned around a tiny table like you would be at Bone Daddies or Kanada-Ya. The noodles are good, and they have things like dumplings and pork buns on the menu as well as options for non-meat eaters. It’s still no bookings, but at least the waits are shorter and there’s an area inside for you to sit and have a beer.
Covent Garden can be a total f*cking maze, but there are plenty of places to hide away from the crowds. Bageriet, a tiny and stylish Swedish bakery, is just off Long Acre but it feels like you’re on a different planet altogether - one where cake is served for meal and there’s an invisible wall that keeps tourists out. The coffees are good and they take their baking seriously: they have the best cinnamon buns in town. It’s perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or an eye opener at breakfast.